Hi everyone at Gamasutra,
My name is Matias Kindermann, I run a company called Kindermann Corp. and we just released our first game on Steam Early Access.
This is a cautionary tale, something we would love to have known before releasing our game, and I'm writing this so reviewers and developers can have a better and more productive relationship.
Before releasing on Steam, we launched a simplified version of the game on Google Play to test out the waters. After releasing on that store we sent over 500 personalized emails to the widest range of reviewers possible, from the ones with 10 subscribers on YouTube and Twitch, to major websites like Destructoid, Kotaku, and even newspapers. It was weeks of hard work after weeks of crunch time on the game (we don't have a marketing department, we're just 2 guys). What I'm trying to say is it was grueling. I'm not complaining though, that effort brought back about 20 mentions and reviews, which in turn gave us over 3,000 downloads of the free version of the game, which also served as promotion for the paid ad-free version. You might think it's a small number, but being our first effort, we were ecstatic for every single download.
After that first draft, we started working on the Steam version from scratch. We added stuff we weren't comfortable doing before with screen controls, we made sure to incorporate every single Steam feature to the game, and we made sure to have a nice Early Access plan to develop the game further (we're still working on a ton of features). We launched our Greenlight campaign, which we were expecting to last for about 3 months, but ended up being successful in just 1! Awesome!
Once Valve approved the game, we set the game to Early Access with a firm launch date, and we kept working to start releasing incremental updates. We thought that was it until launch day, we were wrong...
As soon as the game showed up on Steam Upcoming Releases, we started receiving tons of emails from Twitchers, YouTubers and Bloggers. It was amazing! Before we had to send hundreds of emails that most people would ignore, and now people wanted to play our little game! We couldn't believe the difference between Google Play and Steam. It was incredible and it felt great to have people paying attention!
Best of all, some reviewers had hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and some even had millions! That was super big time for us, even if we weren't expecting all to be good reviews, just having the coverage and exposure was mind blowing! We were so tired after that day of work, that we decided to wait until the next day to reply to them all, to do things the right way and prepare a nice reply for each and every one of them.
After a refreshing night of sleep, we proceeded to review every request, to make sure to watch some of the videos and get to know the people who had contacted us. We wanted to give each one of them a Steam review key (which gives you access to the game before it's published) and a few extra regular keys (which unlocked on Early Access launch day) so they could use them for giveaways/friends or any way they saw fit.
Most of the requests were from people starting out their Let's Play channels, so --since we're also new as developers-- we were super happy to give them keys so they could expand their audience and we could also get a little promotion, win-win for all! But from the first batch of requests, 2 really stuck out, one from a German YouTuber named Danny Jesden with over 500,000 subscribers, and one from a Japanese one named Tomo Akagami with over 1 million! OMG! The years we put on our game might finally have paid off!
I'm quoting the emails here so you can get a little glimpse of our happiness:
from:Tomo Akagami <firstname.lastname@example.org>
title: Press PIXELMAN
I cordially greet you from Land of the Rising Sun!
I am a young game Let's Player from Japan.
Game "PIXELMAN" has caused in my heart fireworks of emotions! She
looks simply amazing and I along with my friends very much like to
make a series of video clips on it.
I would like to ask you a few keys for your game, and with my friends,
we promise you to do good video-review!
Domo arigatou gozaimasu for taking your time to read the letter! I
hope that we can establish a long and fruitful cooperation in the
YES! Our game is like custom-made for Japanese gamers! It even has some Kanji writing on it! We are sure they are going to love it, This is the most perfect thing that could happen to us!
Now let's take a look at Danny's email:
from:Danny Jesden <email@example.com>
title: Press game PIXELMAN
This letter from Danny Jesden from YouTube channel DannyJesden.
Can you provide steam key to game PIXELMAN for my channel? I have a desire to introduce this game on my channel.
My gaming channel signed 500k people and video review will make an excellent advertising for your game!
If you have also the possibility send some keys for my followers - it would be great! Any number of additional keys i accept with great gratitude!
NICE! I can't understand a single thing you're saying in your videos, but my family is from Germany, so I'm sure we can get along with this cool dude, and give him keys so he can play our game and make some awesome videos! Wunderbar!
However, when we were looking at Danny's YouTube profile, one thing seemed really strange, his email came from firstname.lastname@example.org and his profile lists his email as email@example.com, so we started looking him up and there wasn't a single mention of the first email. So we decided to look up our friend Tomo as well, and found several people asking in her official Twitter account whether that was her real email address… to no reply...
Our world was shattered, why would people lie and pretend to be someone else just to get a $2.99 Steam game key? We're super happy to give away keys to people with almost no followers, but not to a liar!
Then we had to investigate every single request that came to our inbox, and at that point it was more than a hundred! And that's were it got complicated, most YouTubers and Twitchers don't list their email address on their profile, some would even send a plain email saying stuff like "hey, I'm Jimmy and I have a super fly Twitch Channel, give me 20 keys so I can review it" with no links, no info, nothing!
It took a ton of time, but we made a list of everyone that contacted us with real verifiable information and those who we had no way to know if they were whoever they said they were.
So, we sent keys to everyone in the first group, and to those in the latter we wrote this generic reply:
Hi *name of alleged reviewer*,
We hope you're having a great day! Thank you for your interest in PIXELMAN.
We would love to provide you with a press key and also some for your followers/subscribers/readers!
We were advised to request contact with reviewers via official channels. Would you mind sending us a message from your Twitter or Facebook accounts?
Ours are https://twitter.com/KindermannCorp and https://www.facebook.com/KindermannCorp.
As soon as we receive a message, we will reach you with the keys.
Thank you, cheers!
Unsurprisingly, from the over 50 people we replied with this email, we only got one single verification...
(that was at first, since then We've received dozens of other requests, without a single reply).
We're not claiming to speak on behalf of every single developer out there, but we believe that most of us indies are happy giving away keys to reviewers that are just starting out, we don't care if you have only 2 subscribers to your channel, or if your WordPress blog has no comments. But if we see that you review games with passion even if just a few people are watching/reading, we will help out and give you keys. We think we indie developers and new reviewers have a lot in common, we all want an audience/gamers and to expand our reach, We're convinced we both benefit from a good relationship.
That's why I want to make a few suggestions to YouTubers, Twitchers, Bloggers and reviewers of all kinds and sizes, so you'll have a much better success rate in getting keys (don't worry, I'm not asking for much):
And to my fellow developers:
And that's it! We truly believe that if both reviewers and developers follow these simple points, we can spend less time trying to figure out who we are really talking to, and more making and playing videogames.
Thank you for reading!